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Why haven’t more teachers left the union after Janus?

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One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 40-year precedent by forbidding public-sector unions from collecting dues from nonmembers. Leading up to the Janus v. AFSCME decision, union leaders openly feared a crippling loss of members and revenue once public employees were financially free to do as they please.

We now know those dire predictions were premature, at the very least, especially when it comes to teachers. Teacher unions have experienced some turnover, but union members did not crowd the exit door. In fact, one recent news article stated that the National Education Association is reporting a slight increase in membership.

A new national poll from the Teacher Freedom project sheds light on why these losses were lower than unions feared — and it is not what union leaders are likely to acknowledge. Despite the fact that many teachers have remained in the union, leaders should still be greatly concerned. The “One Year After Janus” survey was conducted by YouGov, sampling 1,003 U.S. teachers.

First, why haven’t more union members quit since Janus? For starters, most teachers (52 percent) still don’t know they have the right to leave or never join a union without being required to pay dues.

It is therefore unsurprising that only 22 percent of teachers have even reevaluated union membership in the past 12 months. Most teachers simply do not have a reason to think the past year was any different than the year before.

Even if teachers do know they have the right to leave without paying dues, many are confused or mistaken about what happens after they leave. Thirty-two percent of teachers think they will no longer be part of the negotiated agreement and 25 percent think they will forfeit pay raises. That’s not true. Nearly one in five think they will lose their health insurance if they leave the union. Also not true.

In fact, nearly half (46 percent) believe a teacher who ends union membership would forfeit tenure, seniority, health insurance, pay raises or the terms of the negotiated agreement.

Of course, even if a teacher knows she can quit the union and understands what happens next, the process is unnecessarily difficult. With inconvenient summer deadlines, brief opt-out windows and special forms requested only from the union office, it is no wonder just 30 percent of teachers think it is easy to resign union membership.

People who have been working to prevent post-Janus union membership losses benefit greatly from ignorance, confusion and a complicated opt-out process. In fact, union allies passed laws in numerous states ahead of the Janus decision preventing employers from sharing union opt-out information, preventing organizations from obtaining contact information for public employees, and narrowing the opt-out windows even further. To their credit, this strategy is working; not many teachers are reevaluating union membership after Janus.

Combine low awareness of Janus rights and widespread confusion about what happens to nonmembers with a complicated opt-out process and the low opt-out numbers are no surprise — and certainly not a widespread endorsement of union membership.

So, why should union leaders be concerned? Of those teachers who have reevaluated union membership in the past year, 28 percent report they are more inclined to leave or have left. If this is realized, it would be devastating to teacher unions. Even worse for unions, younger teachers who reevaluated union membership are more inclined to leave (36 percent).

Perhaps that 28 percent is why so much effort was put into making it harder for teachers to understand and exercise their Janus rights. Perhaps union leaders are aware that 53 percent of union members feel that unions are too concerned with partisan politics, collecting dues or protecting ineffective teachers.

In truth, it is not a Janus victory for a teacher to opt out of union membership; it is a victory when every association membership — union or otherwise — is active, informed and voluntary.

Until every educator in the country knows their rights and options, we cannot know the full impact of Janus v. AFSCME. For now, we must keep working to provide as many educators as possible with clear and straightforward information about their newly restored rights.

Colin Sharkey is the executive director of the Association of American Educators, a nonunion teaching association serving tens of thousands of educators nationwide. The Association of American Educators Foundation supports the Teacher Freedom project. Follow on Twitter @colinaae and @AAETeachers.

Tags Janus v. AFSCME public employees teacher unions

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